Frequently Asked Questions

The sign reads: "Welcome to Jonestown, Peoples Temple Agricultural Project"
The sign reads: “Welcome to Jonestown, Peoples Temple Agricultural Project”

“Jonestown” is a word with several meanings. First, it refers to an agricultural project established by the Peoples Temple, a religious group based in California which immigrated to Guyana in the mid-1970s to establish an agricultural utopia. Second, it refers to the events of 18 November 1978 in which a U.S. Congressman was assassinated, along with four other individuals, at a jungle airstrip in South America. These tragic killings were followed by the mass murders and suicides of 900 men, women, and children by ingesting potassium cyanide mixed into a vat of fruit punch and tranquilizers. Finally, the word “Jonestown” has been used to describe any New Religious Movement which may or may not have the potential for violence, as in “Heaven’s Gate was another Jonestown.”

A concise introduction to Peoples Temple – written by this site’s manager for the Virginia Commonwealth University World Religions and Spirituality Project – includes a timeline on the Temple’s history, information on the group’s doctrines and beliefs, its rituals, its leadership, and the challenges and issues that culminated on November 18, 1978.

The following answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Jonestown provide additional information about the group, its beliefs, and its practices.

Unless otherwise noted in an individual answer, the texts of the questions and answers below were written by Fielding M. McGehee III.

Peoples Temple

  • What is the correct spelling of Peoples Temple? Answer
  • How did Peoples Temple begin? Answer
  • Who was the leader of Peoples Temple? Answer
  • What was Jim Jones’ racial heritage? Answer
  • Was Peoples Temple a church? Answer
  • Was Peoples Temple associated with a denomination? Answer
  • Why did Peoples Temple alter the words in some of the hymns they sang? Answer
  • Who joined Peoples Temple? Answer
  • What were the beliefs of Peoples Temple members? Answer
  • How many people belonged to Peoples Temple? Answer
  • Did Jim Jones have the power to heal? Answer
  • Why did people refer to Jim Jones as “Father” or “Dad”? When did that start? Answer
  • Was Peoples Temple responsible for the deaths of some of its former members? Answer
  • Why did Peoples Temple make so many audiotapes? Answer

Jonestown, Pre-November 18, 1978

  • Where exactly was Jonestown? Answer
  • Why was Jonestown established in a remote area of the small South American country of Guyana? Answer
  • What were conditions like in Jonestown? Answer
  • Was the Peoples Temple project in Guyana always known as Jonestown? Answer
  • Were there religious services held in Jonestown? Answer
  • Was Jonestown a self-sustaining community? Answer
  • Was there Social Security fraud in Jonestown? Answer
  • Did Peoples Temple commit fraud in its relationship with state welfare agencies, especially with the foster children under its care? Answer
  • Why did people have so many different names in Jonestown? Answer
  • Were people happy in Jonestown? Answer
  • Was Jonestown an armed camp? Answer
  • Was Jonestown a concentration camp? Answer
  • What were the disciplines and punishments in Jonestown? Answer
  • What was Peoples Temple’s plan to move to the Soviet Union? Answer
  • What are White Nights? How many of them were there? Answer
  • What is the origin of the term “White Night”? Answer
  • Why is the child custody battle over John Victor Stoen so important? Answer
  • Where did Jim Jones live in Jonestown? Was his residence separate from the community? Answer NEW
  • What was Jim Jones’ mental and physical condition in November 1978? Was it related to his use of drugs? Answer
  • What is the definition of “revolutionary suicide”? Answer

November 18, 1978

  • Who accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan on his trip to Guyana in November 1978? Answer
  • What exactly happened on 18 November 1978? Answer
  • How many people died on November 18? Answer
  • How many people survived November 18? Answer
  • Who was killed at the Port Kaituma airstrip on November 18? Who was wounded? Who were identified as the assailants? Answer
  • Did the airstrip shooters deliberately target Congressman Ryan and members of the news media? Answer
  • Who was in the group that left Jonestown to go on a “picnic” the morning of November 18th? Answer
  • What were the boats used by Temple members in Jonestown? Where were they on November 18? Answer
  • Who was on the Jonestown basketball team and why were they in Georgetown on November 18? Answer NEW
  • Should the deaths in Jonestown be considered as suicides or murders? Answer
  • How many children and minors died in Jonestown? What were their ages? Answer
  • How many Guyanese died in Jonestown? Did any other non-Americans die? Answer
  • Who shot Jim Jones? Was it murder or suicide? Answer
  • Is there any reasonable explanation for the wide discrepancies in the body counts during the first week following the deaths? Answer
  • Why are there differences in the final death toll, and why do those differences still persist? Answer NEW
  • Why were so many of the people found face down or in rows? Answer
  • What is the explanation for the syringes found at Jonestown following the deaths and for the puncture marks on some of the bodies? Answer
  • Were there any eyewitnesses to the deaths in Jonestown? Answer NEW

Post-November 18, 1978

  • What is known about the tape that was recorded the day after the deaths in Jonestown? Answer NEW
  • Were any people prosecuted for their roles in what happened on November 18, 1978? Answer
  • What happened to the bodies from Jonestown? Answer
  • What was the disposition of Jim Jones’ body? Answer
  • What happened to the graves of the people who died in Jonestown before November 1978? Answer
  • Why are there so many conspiracy theories about what happened in Jonestown? Answer
  • What happened to Peoples Temple after 18 November 1978? Answer
  • What happened to the Peoples Temple church buildings in the United States? Answer NEW
  • What happened to Jonestown in the aftermath of the deaths? Answer NEW
  • How much did Peoples Temple have in assets at the time of the deaths in Jonestown? Where did it go afterwards? Answer
  • Who murdered Al and Jeannie Mills? Answer
  • What happened to the survivors of Peoples Temple? Answer
  • Who is entitled to Unclaimed Property from the California State Controller? Answer
  • What does Jonestown look like today? Is it possible to visit the site? Answer
Last modified on January 6th, 2017.
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