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Thu, Oct 19


Beltrami County History Center

Bonga: A Safe Abode in the Wilderness

Join this author talk with historian Barry Babcock!

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Bonga: A Safe Abode in the Wilderness
Bonga: A Safe Abode in the Wilderness

Time & Location

Oct 19, 2023, 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM

Beltrami County History Center, 130 Minnesota Ave SW, Bemidji, MN 56601, USA

About the event

Beltrami County Historical Society welcomes author and historian Barry Babcock on October 19 at noon to discuss his new book Bonga: A Safe Abode in the Wilderness. The program will be at the Beltrami County History Center (130 Minnesota Ave SW, Bemidji).

Bonga shares how an enslaved African and family escaped from the West Indies to the Northwoods of the Great Lakes. Three generations of the family married into the Ojibwe tribes, distinguished themselves in the fur trade, and were seen with great respect by the Anishinaabeg and white men. They found themselves in the vortex of the significant events that occurred at this time in the making of the territories of the Great Lakes region and the Headwaters of the Mississippi.

Stalwarts among men and intimately involved in the first murder and trial held decades before these territories became states, they tracked down escaped prisoners and opened trading posts in hostile country where others dared not set foot. They were multi-lingual, using their language skills as interpreters, involved with almost every critical treaty in what would become Minnesota. The Bongas were looked upon by the prominent luminaries of the region as people of importance thanks to their ability to move back and forth among the existing cultures. Most importantly, people judged them by the “content of their character.”

Author Barry Babcock lives “off the grid” in the Mississippi Headwaters country of northern Minnesota. His lifestyle is one of simple and self-sustaining existence. He gathers what he needs from the land by gardening, hunting, and harvesting, and his only electricity is harnessed from the sun, his water from a well pumped daily by hand. He lives an intimate balance with the natural world. He is also the author of Teachers in the Forest.

Babcock found the lack of historical literature on the Bonga family frustrating and challenging. As he got into some old letters and documents from the Minnesota Historical Society and pieced those together, however, he could discern how important the family was to the region.

Barry will read excerpts from his book and share details he’s discovered about the Bonga family and its importance to Beltrami County and northern Minnesota. Bonga: A Safe Abode in the Wilderness is available now for purchase at Beltrami County Historical Society, and additional copies will be available on the day of the program. This program is free, but seats are limited; reservation is not required. For more information about our events, please visit our website,

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