Alternate uses: See Jonestown (disambiguation)

Jonestown was a town in Guyana established by People's Temple cult leader Jim Jones. It was located about six to eight miles from Port Kaituma (7°44'N 59°53'W). Notoriously, on Jones' direction the inhabitants committed mass suicide in 1978. The group had been formed in Indianapolis, Indiana from the 1950s. Under pressure the group had moved to San Francisco and following a report in the New West magazine in 1977 Jones leased 4,000 acres of land in Guyana and moved himself and his most devoted followers there. Calling it the People's Temple Agricultural Project they grew food and raised animals.

Table of contents
1 Life in Jonestown
2 Mass suicide
3 Bibliography
4 External links

Life in Jonestown

When accounts of child abuse, false miracles, and various problems within The People's Temple surfaced, their leader Jim Jones took his followers to a jungle north-west of Georgetown, Guyana.

"The moment I got off that plane I knew something was wrong," said a former member Richard Clark, who ran away when he arrived in Guyana.

Once Jones's followers arrived at the 42 acres of land leased from the local Guyana government, they were put to work on a primitive compound that became Jonestown.

Many of the People's Temple members believed that Guyana were to be their tropical paradise, in fact, Jones promised it to be. Instead, everyone including children, ended up working from six days a week, from seven in the morning to six at night, and often when temperature were as hot as 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Incidents of cruelty and inhumanity continued and increased within Jonestown, beatings were commonplace, along with electric shock tortures. Teenagers performed more than half the hard labours, and children were the main victims of abuse.

When parents exchanged whispers while Jones was talking, their children were made to perform sexual acts in front of other members. The care of children was surrendered to the group as a whole, and they were made to address Jones as "Dad", and they were only allowed to see their parents briefly at night.

Children who became too tired to work or "misbehaved" were made to spend the night at the bottom of a well.

Members considered serious disciplinary problems could be imprisoned in a 6 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet plywood box, attempt run-aways had their ankle attached with a ball and chain. Guards patrolled day and night around the compound to ensure the following of Jones' order.

Mass suicide

On November 18, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan, a Democrat from San Francisco, California, flew to Guyana to investigate charges that members of the religious group had been brainwashed and were under the dictatorial rule of Jones.

While the Ryan party were greeted warmly and shown around by Jones, there was clearly something amiss. Ryan and his party of 18, which comprised of journalists and photographers, discovered a fearful, depressed group of followers, some which were to afraid to speak, some that were angry and saw their visit as troubles from outside, and others that complained of the dire situation within the compound.

When Jones learned about some of his followers' reaction, and that some of them wished to leave, he was angry and believed that those who leave the community would "lie", and destroy Jonestown.

A man attacked the congressman with a knife while one couple argued whether or not they should go with Ryan's party. Realizing that the visiting party along with the defectors were in danger, Ryan's group and 16 People's Temple members hurried to a nearby airstrip, where they planned to use the two planes waiting there and fly to the Guyanese capital of Georgetown.

While boarding the plane, two people were wounded when a loyal Jones member among took out a gun and started shooting. Then Leo Ryan, three journalists and one 18-year-old Jonestown defector were shot and killed, when several Jonestown members came out of the jungle to attack the escaping party. One of the planes was able to take off to Georgetown for help, carrying with them a filmed footage of the attack, a first glimpse of Jonestown for the outside world.

The Guyanese army took a day to cut its way through the jungle, and when they reached the compound, they found all its 914 inhabitants dead, including 276 children. The victims had been forced to drink a mixture of Flavor-aid (a drink similar to Kool-aid) and cyanide. Jones and some of the others were killed by gunshots to the head.

Jonestown itself became a "ghost town" after 1978 and was mostly destroyed by a fire in the mid-1980s, after which the ruins were left to decay; as of 2004 there is little to mark the site of one of the most notorious mass suicides in history.


  1. Troubled Society (series): Cults by Renardo Barden
    Discusses in general, the different types of cults, how they begin and prosper, deprogramming, the 60s, and detailed examination of events surrounding cult leaders Charles Manson and Jim Jones.
  2. The Need to Know Library (series): Everything You Need to Know About Cults by Sean Dolan
    Existence of cults, what it is and what it does, understanding cults, process of joining and leaving cults, glossary, where to go for help, and recommended further readings.

External links