The proprietary Virginia Company of London had established the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia in 1607, and delivered supplies and additional settlers in 1608, raising the English colony's population to 200, despite many deaths. The entire operation was characterized by a lack of resources and experience. The Company's fleet was composed of vessels which were less than optimal for delivering large numbers of passengers across the Atlantic Ocean, and the colony itself was threatened by starvation, diseases, and warfare with native peoples.
Despite the delivery of supplies in 1608 on the First and Second Supply missions of Captain Christopher Newport, it seemed certain, at that time, that without a major relief effort, the colony at Jamestown would meet the same fate as two earlier failed English attempts to settle in North America, the Roanoke Colony and the Popham Colony.
The investors of the Virginia Company of London expected to reap rewards from their speculative investments. With the Second Supply, they expressed their frustrations and made demands upon the leaders of Jamestown in written form. They specifically demanded that the colonists send commodities sufficient to pay the cost of the voyage, a lump of gold, assurance that they had found the South Sea, and one member of the lost Roanoke Colony.