Select Page

Remembering the fallen

It is Memorial Day here in the United States — the official holiday and the end of the three-day weekend during which we honor those who gave all for the cause of American freedom.

It was added to the federal holiday calendar in 1888 as Decoration Day1 and moved to the Monday holiday calendar along with Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day in 1968.2

It is a time set aside for us all to honor the men and women who died in the service of this country in order that we might live free.

And The Legal Genealogist will never spend this day without pausing to remember the booksends of our family’s losses.

One in the Revolutionary War.

One in World War II.

Richard Baker was just 23 years old when he died, that cold December day in 1776. Unmarried. Leaving no descendants. He was born 23 December 1753, most likely in Culpeper County, Virginia.3 As far as we’ve been able to determine, he was the 10th of 13 children born to Thomas and Dorothy (Davenport) Baker of Virginia.4

He was serving with his older brother, my fourth great grandfather David Baker, in the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line when Washington crossed the Delaware just after dark on Christmas Day 1776. They were headed to what is known today as the Battle of Trenton.

Washington crossing Delaware

One of Washington’s aides, believed to have been Col. John Fitzgerald, recorded the conditions faced by those troops that day: “It is fearfully cold and raw and a snowstorm setting in. The wind is northeast and beats in the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around their feet; others are barefoot, but I have not heard a man complain. They are ready to suffer any hardship and die rather than give up their liberty.”5

Washington wanted to attack just after daybreak but the crossing took longer than expected. By 6:00 A.M., the storm not abating, the conditions were miserable. One commander sent word that the men’s muskets would not fire due to being exposed to the elements. Washington sent word back to rely on the bayonet: “I am resolved to take Trenton.” 6 And, somehow, Washington and his troops succeeded in taking Trenton, and they did so at a small cost to his small force.

But part of that cost was paid by Richard.

There aren’t any details of his death. Just a poignant and quiet statement by his brother David many years later when David applied for a pension: “In a few days after we joined the main army the battle of White Plains was fought. We retreated & recrossed the Deleware The next Battle was at Trenton the 26th of Decemb – I was guarding the Baggage during the battle & had a Brother by the name of Richard killd in that action.7

Some 167 years later, another family member gave his all. My mother’s cousin, Philip Cottrell — her uncle John’s only son, died in a plane crash as a Marine Corps pilot in World War II. He was appointed to the Naval Academy in 1941, but — like many enrolled in the nation’s service academies — had opted out of the classroom and into active duty. He wanted to fly — and he earned both his wings and a second lieutenant’s commission at Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1943.8

F4U Corsair

He was assigned to a training squadron at the Mojave Marine Corps Air Station — a station which saw four pilots killed in training accidents between the 13th of August and the 7th of September in 1943. And the first to die in those terrible weeks… Philip Cottrell.9

His roommate told a local newspaper: “The squadron had gone up about 2:30 p.m. to get in a couple hours of target practice. Phil was piloting the tow plane. When he attempted to let out the long target sleeve, it became entangled and wouldn’t unfold. Having no target to shoot at, the squadron decided to go back to the base. Phil was to pull in the ‘sleeve’ and follow them in. Apparently, the target was blown up against the side of the engine as Phil was hauling it toward the cockpit, and it became ignited. His plane afire, Lt. Cottrell had no choice but to jump. It is believed the fuselage of the plane struck him on the head as he leaped. He never pulled the ripcord.”10

Each of them gave his life for the freedom that all of his kin — and all of us Americans — enjoy today.

And today, on this Memorial Day 2019, we express our thanks.

To Richard. To Philip.

And to all who have given their all that we might live free.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Memorial Day, 2019,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 27 May 2019).


Image: Emanuel Leutze, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” Metropolitan Museum of Art
Image: Gerry Metzler, “Vought F4U Corsair,” CC BY-SA 2.0

  1. “An act making May thirtieth a holiday in the District of Columbia,” 25 Stat. 353 (23 Feb 1888).
  2. “An Act To provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes,” 82 Stat. 250 (28 June 1968). Veteran’s Day was moved back to the 11th of November in 1975. “An Act To redesignate November 11 of each year as Veterans Day and to make such day a legal public holiday,” 89 Stat. 479 (18 Sep 1975).
  3. John Scott Davenport, “Five-Generations Identified from the Pamunkey Family Patriarch, Namely Davis Davenport of King William County,” PDF, p. 27, in The Pamunkey Davenport Papers: The Saga of the Virginia Davenports Who Had Their Beginnings in or near Pamunkey Neck, CD-ROM (Charles Town, W.Va.: Pamunkey Davenport Family Association, 2009).
  4. Ibid.
  5. George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin, Rebels & Redcoats: The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those Who Fought and Lived It (1957; reprint, New York : Da Capo Press, 1987), 211.
  6. Alan Axelrod, Profiles in Audacity: Great Decisions And How They Were Made (New York : Sterling Pub. Co., 2006), 218-219.
  7. Affidavit of Soldier, 26 September 1832; Dorothy Baker, widow’s pension application no. W.1802, for service of David Baker (Corp., Capt. Thornton’s Co., 3rd Va. Reg.); Revolutionary War Pensions and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, microfilm publication M804, 2670 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1974); digital images, Fold3 ( : accessed 28 Apr 2012), David Baker file, p. 4.
  8. Crystal Bachman, “In Memory of Marine Lieutenant Philip Ellsworth Cottrell,” South Dakota WWII Memorial ( : accessed 27 May 2019).
  9. See “Accidents Occuring 1940 – Prior,” Aircraft Wrecks in Southern California ( : accessed 27 May 2019).
  10. Bachman, “In Memory of Marine Lieutenant Philip Ellsworth Cottrell.”
Print Friendly, PDF & Email