Celia, A Slave is a book written by Melton McLaurin in 1991. It is based on the true story of Celia, a slave who was bought and sexually molested by Robert Newsom, a resident of Fulton Township in Calloway County, Missouri. Celia killed him, four years after he had bought her, and she was tried and hanged for it.
Circuit Court Judge William Hallwas the one who presided over the trial. The lawyer he chose for Celia’s defense was John Jameson. He chose this particular lawyer because Jameson had a very good reputation as a competent, genial member of the legal community or bar, in other words. Jameson was quite a popular citizen of Fulton Township. He was indeed a slave owner like Robert Newsom and so many others at that time. However, he was not personally involved in the slavery debates that were going on and he preferred to remain a mutual, neither supporting nor opposing. He had represented Missouri for three terms in the U.S. Congress, and had also practiced law in the community for about three decades. With quite a considerable bit of political savvy, as well as an excellent reputation as a trial lawyer, John Jameson was more than acceptable to the parties on both sides of the conflict. Jameson could represent the defendant satisfactorily, albeit not too satisfactory. In addition to that, Judge Hall appointed two young lawyers fresh out of college, Nathan Kouns and Isaac Boulware, to assist him in his defense of Celia.
Jameson’s strategy for defense was done the following way. The defense mostly focused on the motive for Celia’s actions as well as her sexual exploitation. Jameson argued that, by law, Celia was entitled to use deadly force in order to protect herself from rape, in spite of her previous sexual relationship with Robert Newsom. His argument was exceptionally bold and unconventional due to the fact that it was based on a Missouri statute that had originally been created to protect only white women. In most parts of the American South, sexual assault on a slave was regarded as trespass, and the owners could not be accused of trespass if it was on their own property.
Jameson and the two younger lawyers kept focusing on the sexual molestations done by Robert Newsom on Celia, how it had traumatized her, taken a toll on her life and well-being, and even how it had affected her relationships with other people. For instance, her real lover, a man called George, could not stand sharing her with Mr. Newsom, and he gave Celia an ultimatum: she had to make him stop his sexual advances on her. The plan of Celia’s defense in doing this was to enable the members of the jury, all men, particularly those who owned slaves, to feel empathy for Celia, and therefore weaken the sentence, enabling Celia to survive.
However, this was effectively countered by the prosecution. Every time the defense tried to bring up the issue of Robert Newsom sexually molesting Celia, they objected they very likely knew what John Jameson was planning, and the sort of impact it would have and in most cases, Judge William Hall sustained their objections. In effect, this weakened the situation of the defense, as they had nothing solid to defend Celia.
Judge Hall probably sustained the prosecution’s objections because he wanted a speedy, by-the-book trial. He already knew that there was a very high chance that Celia would get the death sentence, so he wanted the case over and done with before it became too big an issue. After all, they were living in a time when the issue of slavery had become quite massive, with the American government being forced to put an equal number of Free states and pro-slavery states. Probably because of this pressure, he was quite strict in his judgments, so as not to be seen favoring any side. For instance, after the jury had found Celia guilty, Jameson asked Judge Hallto to bring out a stay of execution during the period that Celia’s case was being appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. However, he flatly refused, which in turn caused her supporters to take drastic measures. On the chilly night of November 11, Celia was aided to “escape” from prison. She did not return to custody until the time after her initial execution date had passed. As she returned, a new execution date was set, on December 21.
In spite of all this, Jameson’s defense strategy greatly helped to challenge the system of slavery, though it was not immediate. One thing it did was to force the white Americans to view slaves, and black people in general, as actual human beings. Activism in the nearby free-states was at an all-time high, and blacks from other regions came to support Celia as her trial went on. It helped to solidify and strengthen the black movement as a whole. The trial highlighted major issues of racism. As an example, in the South, the slave’s masters had virtually unlimited power. They completely controlled their slaves, and as the slaves were considered property, they became a subject of abuse. Also, the law clearly stated that a slave had no right to testify against a white person, dead or alive. Due to this, slaves had no ability to defend themselves in court, as was in case of Celia. She could never defend herself, and that was undoubtedly the equivalent to getting hit with a cannonball on the part of the defense.
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