Was the Peoples Temple project in Guyana always known as Jonestown?

Jonestown was not the original name of the settlement, and the exact date when it became to be known as Jonestown – if in fact there were a conscious decision to call it that – is unknown.

The first formal designation of the project was as a “Branch Church and Agricultural Mission” in Guyana, as described in a resolution passed by the Temple’s Board of Directors on October 8, 1973.  Its most formal name in its early years of development and construction was the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. However, many would-be emigrants to Guyana referred to it as “Freedom Land” or “The Promised Land,” or even more familiarly as “FL” or “PL” (as in the example of an undated – but certainly no earlier than mid-1976 – checklist for permanent residents going over.)

The earliest known reference to the community as “Jonestown” came in October 1974 during a sermon by Jim Jones in San Francisco. “There’ll be a banquet dinner for Jonestown,” he said, and then referring to Guyana Primer Minister Forbes Burnham, he continued, “The president of that free country has named it Jonestown, as you know.” The last three words suggest that there are previous references, although they have not yet been uncovered.

The earliest official document referring to “Jonestown” came almost three years later, in the Progress Report for the Summer of 1977, published shortly before the mass migration began.  Its cover refers to the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project,” but the word “Jonestown” appears 20 times within its pages.

Even on Jonestown’s final weekend, the sign welcoming visitors to the community – as shown on NBC’s video footage – refers to it only as “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project.”

Last modified on March 6th, 2015.
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