The Adams-Bivens Family

As told by Chandra Bivens Carty

One of 12 slaves brought to Manatee County in 1844 to build Gamble Plantation, Nelson Burton arrived from Leon County, FL with Major Robert Gamble. There was no “Bradenton” yet. Manatee was made up of dense hammock along the Manatee River, and Nelson was one of 181 slaves who helped construct Gamble Plantation in Ellenton. Following the Civil War and freedom, Nelson and his wife, Mariah Washington Burton, left the plantation to live in an area called Gates Creek (where they began purchasing property). The 1916 Bradenton City Directory had Mariah Washington Burton living with her daughter, Malissa, and her husband, Juneous (June) Adams, on Midway Avenue in Bradenton as shared owners of a rooming house. Mariah Washington Burton’s youngest, Bessie Adams Williams (Chandra Carty’s grandmother), lived with her husband, Cleveland Williams, on South Street (they are also listed in the city directory as owners of a “lunchroom”). 

“I have used the Sanborn Map Company’s maps to try to locate the area where my family lived,” Carty says. Between Malissa and Bessie and their husbands, the family bought up numerous properties in the area, adding to the family real estate. Bessie and Cleveland Williams’ children: Irma, Carl, Frances and Naomi, inherited the family properties and real estate. “My mother, Naomi Bivens, remembers her grandfather, Juneous Adams—describing that he came to Manatee County to pick the citrus fruit,” Carty says. “He worked on the Foster Plantation. Later, he worked in John Harlee’s store in Old Manatee, then for Major A.J. Adams.” June Adams, along with others, established St. Paul Baptist Church in 1886, located on Seventh Street near the old fire station. Later, in 1899, he established and helped build St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church, at the intersection of Ninth Avenue and Ninth Street. June Adams was also the first Black person to contribute money ($100) for the building of the new Manatee Hospital. “The registration Book of District Five, Manatee County, shows Juneous Adams registered and voted on Sept. 12, 1888,” Carty says. “He was most proud of his philanthropic support of Manatee County and helping to organize the churches—also where Black kids would attend classes, since there were no actual schools for them at the time.” 

Joseph Bivens (Carty’s father) was the principal at Bradenton Elementary School, 1st Street School, Lincoln High School and Lincoln Middle School. He served on numerous boards—including the Housing Board and Draft Board, and was a member of the Deacon Board at St. Stephens AME Church. “I remember my father assisting students in applying for community grants,” Carty says. “My mother, Naomi, also understood the importance of an education—taught by her parents and great grandparents before her to work hard, save her money and give back to her community. Through her careful planning and hard work, she has been able to leave a legacy that will live on through generations.” And, according to Carty, the education community of Bradenton has grown from one school for Blacks to more than 78 public schools serving the entire Manatee community. “She would be proud to know that Manatee has seven institutions of higher learning—including four private colleges and three public colleges,” Carty says. “The opportunity for advanced education is now available for those students who can demonstrate the ability to perform scholastically.” 

Revitalization of Carty’s old neighborhood, where she grew up on Ninth Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) had a variety of businesses—including a local grocery store, cleaners, a gas station and churches. “That area has such potential. I would love to see a multi-use business located on Third Street. The area is only blocks from the Bradenton Riverwalk and a beautiful community garden,” Carty says. “I am hopeful that I can make suggestions to the city planner for Third Street and Ninth Avenue. I would also like to see a monument recognizing the slaves who built Gamble Plantation, including my grandfather.” 

Aside from the visions of the aforementioned areas, Carty hopes that the legacies of her family will be recognized and remembered: Nelson and Mariah Burton, who overcame slavery and purchased real estate after freedom; Juneous and Malissa Adams, who helped to establish two churches and donated to Manatee Hospital; Bessie and Cleveland Williams, who were among the community to support the efforts to establish the first school for Blacks; their children, Irma and Carl Williams, who were teachers at the school; Naomi and Joseph Bivens, who were key educators in Manatee County, and whose strong leadership guided numerous students to pursue an education beyond Bradenton. “The Joseph T. and Naomi W. Bivens Scholarship Fund will continue their dream for minority students in Manatee County,” Carty says with familial pride.  —B.Mattie