George Bonga, an early settler in Minnesota

George Bonga
Fri, 1802-08-20

On this date we celebrate the birth of George Bonga in 1802. He was a Black fur trader and trapper.

Born near Duluth, Minnesota, he was one of two sons of a black father and a Chippewa mother. Bonga was the grandson of Jean Bonga, who is believed to be the first Black to settle in the north woods (1782). Bonga worked for the American Fur Company, then as an independent fur trader. He held ports in Ottertail, Lac Platte, and Leech Lake, MN. He could speak English, French, and Ojibwa, and in 1820 served as an interpreter for then governor Lewis Cass at a council held in Fond du Lac territory.

In 1837, Bonga tracked a Chippewa Indian named Che-Ga Wa Skung for nearly a week through winter snows and hostile territory. The Indian, wanted for murder, was eventually caught by Bonga and returned to authorities at Fort Snelling for the first trial for a criminal offense in what is now Minnesota.

Bonga lived among the Indians for the rest of his life, helping with their fair treatment as they were pushed from their lands by whites. George Bonga died in 1880.

Minnesota Historical Society
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102-1906

Person / name: 

Bonga, George