I completed my annual business trip to Williamsburg, Virginia earlier this week. I’ve featured articles arising from these periodic visits in the past including A Colonial Capital, The Jamestown-Scotland Ferry and Revisiting the Swap. I felt like I’d mined that area rather extensively. I had no plans to report anything further.
Something made me smile as I returned home along along Interstate 95. It’s something I’ve passed many times before as I’ve traveled between Richmond and Fredericksburg: one crosses two oddly-marked rivers in quick succession: the Po and the Ni. Two-lettered rivers are unusual enough and even more so within such close proximity, but that’s not what’s always amused me. My mind always seems to combine the two as I drive along; first Po then Ni, forming Poni (like Pony). I know, I’m easily entertained. I can’t be the only one who’s ever noticed this before. Will anyone else confess?
Google Street View has good coverage of the Ni River sign along I-95.
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I finally resolved to check into this after observing the spectacle dozens of times over the years. I thought maybe I’d include something in one of those brief “totally unrelated” notations I sometimes place at the bottom of articles. What I discovered changed those plans completely. Just before I’d crossed the Po and Ni Rivers, I’d crossed that Matta River. I had no idea that the Matta was part of the story too.
Prepare yourselves. This is a true geo-oddity. Four rivers in Spotsylvania County are called the Mat, Ta, Po and Ni Rivers respectively. The Mat and Ta Rivers join to form the Matta River, the first one I crossed on I-95. The Po and the Ni Rivers join just across the border in Caroline County east of I-95 to form the Poni River. Shortly thereafter, the Matta and Poni Rivers join to form the Mattaponi River, which later joins with the Pamunkey River.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.5)
The Mattaponi Indians are a state-recognized tribe (currently seeking Federal recognition) as are the Pamunkey Indians. They are the only two tribes of Native Americans in Virginia that have their own reservations. The Mattaponi and Pamuney Rivers join to form the, um,… York River? It was pretty interesting up until that last one, I guess.
Someone long ago gazed upon the Mattaponi River and noticed that the branches matched the syllables, found it amusing and somehow got away with an unusual naming convention. I don’t think it was laziness. I’ll bet this early settler thought he was rather clever. He probably would enjoy reading 12MC if he were alive today. I tip my keyboard to this unknown colonial-era enthusiast and propagator of geo-oddities.
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More? You’d like more?
A famous event occurred in the space between the Po and the Ni. One can hardly throw a rock in Virginia without hitting something related to the Civil War. That’s particularly true in this corner that falls within the boundaries of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The Bloody Angle resides between those two rivers. Here in 1864, "soldiers struggled for 20 hours in the longest hand-to-hand fight of the war," resulting in Union casualties of about 9,000 men and Confederate casualties of about 8,000 men.
I don’t think I’ll look at that Poni the same way again.