Wash beans under cold, running water. Place in a heavy 5 quart pot. Cover with 2 quarts water. Let beans soak overnight. Or, cover beans with 2 quarts water, bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and boil 2 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 1 hour before continuing. Do not drain off water.
Two hours before serving, add chopped onions, celery, and bell pepper to beans. With a spoon, gently push vegetables below the water line. Cover pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. In a small bowl, mix all spices except bay leaves. Sprinkle on top of beans. Add bay leaves.
Add sausage to pot and very gently stir spices and sausage into beans; do not stir more than necessary. Cover and let simmer at least 30 minutes or until beans are completely soft. Serve over hot rice with shredded cheddar cheese, and plenty of chopped green onions, if desired. Serves 6.