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The First Shot That Triggered the Filipino-American War, February 4, 1899.

On February 4, 1899 at about eight o’clock in the evening, Private William Walter Grayson, together with two other members of his patrol, entered Barrio Santol in Sampaloc, Manila to find out whether there were Filipino soldiers in the vicinity.


Upon seeing the Filipino soldiers, in the Santa Mesa area, the American sentry shouted “Halt!” When the Filipinos continued their way, the American fired and killed one of them instantly along the now Sociego Street in Santa Mesa, Manila. This triggered firing between both sides, which spread to Paco and Sta. Ana.

Prof. Ambeth Ocampo in his February 3, 2021 column Looking Back in the Inquirer Mobile ( wrote, Grayson gave this account: “That night, about eight o’clock, Miller and I—there were two of us—were cautiously pacing our district. We came to a fence and were trying to see what the Filipinos were up to. Suddenly, near at hand, on our left, there was a low but unmistakable Filipino outpost signal from Blockhouse No. 7. It was immediately answered by a similar whistle about twenty-five yards to the right. Then a red lantern flashed a signal from Blockhouse No. 7. We had never seen such a sign used before.

In a moment, something rose up slowly not 20 feet in front of us. It was a Filipino. I yelled ‘Halt!’ and made it pretty loud, for I was accustomed to challenging the officer of the guard in approved military style. The man moved. I challenged him with another loud ‘Halt!’ Then he imprudently shouted ‘halto!’ at me. Well, I thought the best thing to do was to shoot him. He dropped. If I didn’t kill him, I guess he died of fright.

Two Filipinos sprang out of the gateway about 15 feet from us. I called ‘Halt!’ and Miller fired and dropped one. I saw that another was left. Well, I think I got my second Filipino at that time. We retreated to where our six other fellows were, and I said: ‘Line up fellows, the niggers are in here all through these yards.’ We then retreated in the pipeline and got behind the water main and stayed there all night. It was some minutes after our second shots before the Filipinos began firing.”

And so the Filipino-American War began.

A popular belief prevailed for over a century, that the first shot of the Philippine-American was fired on San Juan Bridge, Santa Mesa. In 2003, the Philippines’ National Historical Institute (NHI) recognized this error through Board Resolution 7 Series of 2003. On February 4, 2004 the historical marker on the bridge was removed and transferred to a site at the corner of Sociego and Silencio streets, Santa Mesa.

Ambeth Ocampo further states, “Nowhere in Grayson’s account did he mention being on a bridge, and in photographed reenactments Grayson does not stand on a bridge, either. In a 2014 geospatial study utilizing maps and testimonies of the period, the conclusion was that the first shot happened somewhere on a trail leading from Santol to Blockhouse No. 7 (Sociego Street). While its remains uncertain that the present Silencio corner Sociego is the exact site of the First Shot, it definitely did not happen on San Juan Bridge.”

Sources: Looking Back by Ambeth Ocampo. The First Shot: Quiet, Silence, and A Bridge, February 03, 2021.


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