While at Cozumel, Cortez had the good fortune to pick up a Spaniard, who, having been wrecked in his passage from Darien to Hispaniola in the year 1511, had for seven years been detained as a slave among the Indians of Yucatan. The name of this poor man was Jeronimo de Aguilar; he had been educated for the church; and as he could speak the language of Yucatan, his services as an interpreter were likely to be very valuable.
On the 4th of March 1519, the fleet, consisting of eleven vessels, commanded respectively by Cortez, Pedro de Alvarado, Alonzo Puerto Carrero, Francisco de Montejo, Christoval de Olid, Diego de Ordaz, Velasquez de Leon, Juan de Escalante, Francisco de Monla, Escobar, and Gines Nortes, set sail from Cozumel, and on the 13th it anchored at the mouth of the river Tabasco or Grijalva, flowing into the south of the Bay of Cam peachy.
The expedition had now reached the scene of active operations; it had arrived on the coast of the American continent. Cortez does not appear to have been naturally a bloodily-disposed man. He was only what a perverted education and the vices of his times had made him - a man full of mighty notions of the Spanish authority; of its right to take, by foul or fair means, any country it liked; and not without an excuse from religion. to rob and kill the unfortunate natives who dared to defend their territories.
We have now therefore, to record the beginning of a most unjust and merciless war of aggression. As Cortez, with his followers, sailed up the river as far as Tabasco, he everywhere Observed the natives preparing to repel his attack, and at length he was brought into collision with them - of course overpowering them by the force of arms, with immense slaughter. On reaching Tabasco, his soldiers fought their way through dense masses of Indians, who discharged among them perfect clouds of arrows and stones. Pushing through the streets, which were lined with houses, some of mud, and some of stone, the victors reached a large open square in the centre, where temples of large size were erected. Here the troops were drawn up; and Cortez, advancing to a large ceiba-tree which grew in the middle, gave it three;lashes with his sword, and took possession of the city and country in the name of his royal master Don Carlos, king of Castile.
Next day another battle was fought between the Spaniards and the Tabascans on the plain of Ceutla, a few miles distant from the city. For an hour the Spanish infantry fought in the midst of an ocean of enemies, battling on all sides, beating one wave back, only that another might advance a little islet encircled by the savage breakers. At length, with the assistance of their horse - a terrible sight to the Indians - the Spaniards were victorious. The spirit of the Tabascans was now completely subdued. Their chiefs came to the camp of Cortez with faces and gestures expressive of contrition, and brought him presents of fowls, fish, maize, and numerous gold toys representing many kinds of animals in miniature. For the horses, they brought a feast of turkeys and roses! They also gave Cortez twenty Indian girls to attend the army. To his inquiries respecting the country whence they obtained the gold, they replied by repetitions of the words Culua 'and Mexico,' and pointing to the west. Having obtained all the information the Tabascans could give him, Cortez resolved to proceed on his voyage. Accordingly, after a solemn mass, which the Indians attended, the armament left Tabasco, and after a short sail, arrived off the coast of St. Juan de Ulua, the site of the modern Vera Cruz. It was on Holy Thursday (April 20th), in the year 1519, that they arrived at the port of St. Juan de Ulua, the extreme eastern province of the Mexican dominions properly so called. The royal flag was floating from the mast of Cortez's ship. The Spaniards could see the beach crowded with natives, who had come down to gaze at the strange 'water-houses,' of which they had formerly seen specimens. At length a light pirogue, filled with natives, some of them evidently men of rank, pushed off from the shore, and steered for the ship of Cortez. The Indians went on board without any symptoms of fear, and, what was more striking, with an air of ease and perfect good-breeding. They spoke a different language from that of the inhabitants of Cozumel or the Tabascans - a language, too, which Aguilar did not understand. Fortunately, one of the twenty Indian girls presented by the Tabascans to the Spaniards was a Mexican by birth. This girl, whose Spanish name of Donna Marina is imperishably associated with the history of the conquest of Mexico, was the daughter of a chief, but, by a singular course of events, had become a slave in Tabasco. She had already attracted attention by her beauty, sweetness, and gentleness, and she had been mentioned to Cortez. Her services now became valuable. The Mexican was her native language; but by her residence in Tabasco, she had acquired the Tabascan, which language was also familiar to Aguilar. Interpreting, therefore, what the Mexicans said into Tabascan to Aguilar, Aguilar in turn interpreted the Tabascan into Spanish; and thus, though somewhat circuitously, Cortez could hold communication with his visitors.
The Aztec visitors who came on board the ship of Cortez, informed him that they were instructed by the governor of the province to ask what he wanted on their coast, and to promise that whatever he required should be supplied. Cortez replied that his object was to make the acquaintance of the people of those countries, and that he would do them no injury. He then presented them with some beads of cut glass, and after an entertainment of wine, they took their departure, promising that Teuthlille, the governor of the province under their great emperor, should visit him the next day.