Jerónimo de Aguilar was a Franciscan friar born in Écija, Spain. He wound up at the colony of Santa María la Antigua del Darién, founded in Panama in 1510. In 1511 Aguilar and fifteen other men and two women sailed from Panama to Santo Domingo. They were shipwrecked, and the crew and passengers got into a small boat, hoping to reach Cuba or Jamaica, but strong currents brought them in their ship’s boat to the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Aguilar and 11 or 12 other survivors were captured by the local Maya and scheduled to be sacrificed to Maya gods, but thanks to Gonzalo Guerrero’s cunning they were spared.

Valdivia and four others met this fate while others died of disease and the women were made slaves. Aguilar and Gonzalo managed to escape, later to be taken as slaves by another Mayan chief named Xamanzana who was hostile to the first tribe. Here he and Guerrero were able to learn the language of their captors. Aguilar lived as a slave during his eight years with the Maya. His continued fidelity to his religious vows led him to refuse the offers of women made to him by the chief. Guerrero became a war chief for Nachan Kaan, Lord of Chektumal, married a rich Maya woman and fathered the first mestizo children of Mexico.

When Cortés reached Mexico in 1519 he heard word of there being bearded men among a neighboring tribe. Suspecting that they were fellow Spaniards, he sent word to them. Eventually Aguilar reached them and joined the expedition. Speaking both Maya and Spanish, he, and La Malinche, who could speak Maya and Nahuatl, translated for Cortés during the Conquest of Mexico. His usefulness in that capacity ended once La Malinche had learned Spanish and was able to translate directly from Nahuatl.