Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Historia Verdadera, Volume 1, Chapter 29

When the Spaniard who was a prisoner among the Indians, knew for certain that we had returned to Cozumel with the ships, he was very joyful and gave thanks to God, and he came in great haste with the two Indians who had carried the letters and ransom, and embarked in a canoe, and as he was able to pay well with the green beads we had sent him, he soon hired a canoe and six Indian rowers And they rowed so fast that, with no accidents at sea, in a very short time they crossed the small gulf between the two shores, a distance of about four leagues from one shore to the other.

And having arrived on the coast of Cozumel, while they were disembarking, some soldiers who had gone out hunting (because there were wild pigs on the island) told Cortés that a large canoe, which had come from the direction of Cape Cotoche, had arrived near the town. Cortés sent Andrés de Tápia and two other soldiers to go and see, for it was a novelty for Indians to come fearlessly in large canoes so close to where we were. So they set out, and as soon as the Indians who came in the canoe, which Aguilar had hired, caught sight of the Spaniards, they were frightened and wanted to get back into the canoe and flee.

Aguilar told them in their own language not to fear, that these men were his brothers. When Andrés de Tápia saw that they were only Indians (because Aguilar looked neither more nor less than an Indian), he at once sent word to Cortés by a Spaniard that they were Cozumel Indians who had come in the canoe.

After they had landed, Aguilar in poorly articulated Spanish that was pronounced even worse, cried Dios y Santa Maria de Sevilla. Immediately Tápia embraced him. The other soldier who had accompanied Tápia ran to tell Cortés that the one who had arrived in the canoe was a Spaniard, and he demanded a reward. We all rejoiced.

Tápia soon brought the Spaniard to Cortés, but before he arrived where Cortés was, several Spaniards asked: “Where is the Spaniard?” even though he was walking by his side, because they could not distinguish him from an Indian as he was naturally brown and he had his hair shorn like an Indian slave, and carried a paddle on his shoulder, he wore one old sandal and the other was tied to his belt, he had on a ragged old coat, and a worse loin cloth with which he covered his nakedness, and he had tied up, in a bundle in his coat, an old and worn Book of Hours. When Cortés saw him in this state, he was deceived like the others, and asked Tápia “Where is the Spaniard?” On hearing this, the Spaniard squatted down on his haunches as the Indians do and said, “It’s me.”

Cortés at once ordered him to be given a shirt and doublet and drawers and a cape and sandals, for he had no other clothes, and asked him about himself and what his name was and when he came to this country.

The man replied, speaking the language with difficulty, that he was called Jerónimo de Aguilar, a native of Ecija, and that he had taken holy orders, that eight years had passed since he and fifteen other men and two women left Darien for the Island of Santo Domingo, where he had some disputes and a lawsuit with a certain Enciso y Valdívia, and carrying ten thousand gold dollars and the legal documents to use against the others, and that the ship in which they sailed, struck on the Alacranes so that she could not sail the seas, and that he and his companions and the two women got into the ship’s boat, thinking to reach the Island of Cuba or Jamaica, but that the currents were very strong and carried them to this land, and that the Calachiones of that district had divided them among themselves, and that many of his companions had been sacrificed to the Idols, and that others had died of disease, and the women had died of overwork only a short time before, for they had been made to grind corn; that the Indians had intended him for a sacrifice, but that one night he escaped and fled to the Cacique with whom he has since been living (I don’t remember the name that he gave) and that none were left of all his party except himself and a certain Gonzalo Guerrero, whom he had gone to summon, but he would not come.

When Cortés heard all this, he gave thanks to God, and said that he would have him well looked after and rewarded. He questioned Aguilar about the country and the towns, but Aguilar replied that having been a slave, he knew only about hewing wood and drawing water and digging in the fields, that he had only once traveled as far as four leagues from home when he was sent with a load, but, as it was heavier than he could carry, he fell ill, but that he understood that there were very many towns. When questioned about Gonzalo Guerrero, he said that he was married and had three sons, and that his face was tattooed and his ears and lower lip were pierced, that he was a seaman and a native of Palos, and that the Indians considered him to be very valiant; that when a little more than a year ago a captain and three vessels arrived, (it seems probable that this was when we came with Francisco Hernández de Córdova) it was at the suggestion of Guerrero that the Indians attacked them, and that he was there himself in the company of the Cacique of the large town, whom I have spoken about when describing the expedition of Francisco Hernández de Córdova. When Cortés heard this he exclaimed “Truthfully, I want him in my hands because it is not a good place to leave him.”

When the Caciques of Cozumel found out that Aguilar could speak their language, they gave him their best to eat, and Aguilar advised them always to respect and revere the holy image of Our Lady and the Cross, for they would find that it would benefit them greatly.

On the advice of Aguilar the Caciques asked Cortés to give them a letter of recommendation, so that if any other Spaniards came to that port they would treat the Indians well and do them no harm, and this letter was given to them. After bidding the people good-bye with many caresses and promises we set sail for the Rio de Grijalva.

This is the true story of Aguilar, and not the other which the historian Gómara has written; however, I am not surprised that what he says is news to me.