Letters from Carolyn Moore Layton

by Rebecca Moore

Carolyn Moore Layton with cutlass bean plant, Jonestown, May 1978
Carolyn Moore Layton with cutlass bean plant, Jonestown, May 1978

(Nota del editor: una traducción al español de estas cartas se encuentra aqui.)

Carolyn Moore Layton was one of the top administrators of Peoples Temple, both in California and after the group’s move to Guyana. In the following letters, she details life in the jungle community as well as the group’s concerns about media and government harassment.

The following excerpt is from The Jonestown Letters: Correspondence of the Moore Family 1970–1985 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1986).

* * * * *

August 19, 1977

Dear Mom and Dad,

With the continuing merciless attack by the press, we are beginning to wonder if we have accidentally stumbled on something bigger than we realized.

I remember in Phillip Agee’s book [Inside the Company] … where he described how utterly vengeful the C.I.A. was when Castro was victorious in Cuba. They were so angry that they made every possible effort to get [Che] Guevara beyond the normal parameters of intelligence work. It does make one wonder if they had some plan for Guyana that our presence has in some way unsettled. Or perhaps they just cannot conceive of a group of people who have rejected materialism for a freer lifestyle, though less creature-comfort oriented.

It is hard to find a rational explanation for the continual press harassment unless they have some greater concern, or are being paid or intimidated into continuing. Maybe they just want to prove that you just can’t be too successful a socialist group without being totally desecrated. It’s odd how their bent is on Guyana, which makes me wonder if we have tampered with someone’s ‘master plan.’ We certainly would be hard to reach if the C.I.A. did have plans to de-stabilize and they know we would never stand for it.

Well, on to the lighter side. We have adopted a beautiful 4-year-old Amer-Indian Black baby and he is doing very well. The wife of the Ambassador to the U.S. (Guyanese) brought him to us. She said our children were so happy, she knew he’d like it here. Also, she would have kept him herself if she could.

Then also we had 50 students visit; the Ministry of Education (to work cooperatively on education), and many other guests. Almost every day someone comes to visit.

It’s a share you never saw our program in full operation in San Francisco. It was really impressive. Too impressive, I’m afraid. The absurdity of saying you can stage the behavior of 200 children!!!

At any rate people here are very interested in cooperative living. Many study the program here as a model. Our seniors who have come are thrilled. Children love it. The school we have started is excellent.

Larry [Schacht] is teaching Annie new medical techniques every day. He is very conscientious. He has detected serious conditions in several local cases. Annie and he work well together.

Last week he taught her suturing which he said she did better than he. You know her artistic side. At Jim’s direction she put papaya skin on the 4-year-old sores on a senior’s legs and within hours the sores healed and closed. Perhaps you have heard of the British doctor who has found fantastic medicinal use for papaya. It has been used in kidney transplants even. It is being studied now.

I have two rolls of old film. I will use it up and send the undeveloped film to you to have developed. I hope it is not too old. Keep the pictures you want and send me copies. I would love to capture the beauty here for you.

Letter is on way to Georgetown to mail.

Much love, Carolyn

P.S. Lynetta [Jim Jones’ mother] is here in her own little cottage, with her puppy. She made the trip well, accompanied by Larry S., M.D.

* * * * *

October 11, 1977

Dear Mom, Dad, and whomever (Becky),

I have been receiving your letters and I had already read the Joan Bran article as people come down quite often with newspapers.

We are all doing very well. Annie is busy as usual with her nursing and experimenting with papaya on superficial wounds — it does indeed appear to have astounding powers to stimulate new skin growth. She uses it with burns, large sores on older people and boils. It is very effective on all and she goes out to pick her own papaya, since she knows just which one will do the trick.

Jim is busily administrating and works every day outside in the gardens, and on various sites on the farm. He is busy as usual, but at least gets to be in the outdoors which is certainly healthier than San Francisco.

I am teaching political science in our high school. I do a lot of teaching of political philosophy which I have always wanted to do as you may recall. This is the first time I have ever been able to teach what I really have wanted. Also I help administrate the high school and train younger teachers. It is a challenge in the middle of the jungle, but even with less in the way of supplies it is so much nicer to be able to teach what you want the way you want that it is worth the minor inconveniences.

We have a very good pre-school, elementary school, and high school and lots of highly qualified people doing the teaching and also a good teacher-student ratio which is really a pleasure too. Our baby nursery is finished and the babies have their own play porch, which is really darling. Kimo [Carolyn’s son] does well in the pre-school program. He is doing very well and is enjoying fully the outdoors, the sunshine and hiking around on his own some, too. He talks about eating his cassava, greens, his plantains, etc. A unique jungle vocabulary. He continually discusses heavy equipment such as the tractor, back-hoe, dump truck, the cranes, the radio (he can say our call letters) and he seems fascinated with how this sort of equipment works. It is not many 2-year-olds who have lived in the asphalt jungle and then have flown halfway across the world, taken a jungle boat ride, and finally ended up living on a tropical farm. I must say his life experiences have been rich and varied. His world view must be quite unusual for his age.

I have come to town to renew my passport, so went down to the local American Embassy to chat with ‘your local do-it-yourself CIA attache. We were told by high government officials that he is definitely working for the CIA and he is just the type. I am returning to the interior tomorrow to get back to school. Was only in town over the week-end.

You may not know just what the farm entails — we have a large piggery as we raise pigs to eat, and also chickens. We grow bananas, cassava (bitter and sweet) which is used for both human consumption and for pig feed, cutlass beans from which we make a patty much like hamburgers, pineapple, citrus trees (which take a while to bear fruit though we have some bearing now), various green vegetables and fruits. For house plants you just go out to the floor of the jungle and you can pick the most exotic types and plant them indoors (in the States they would cost a fortune). In fact some are exported to the States. Jungle plants take mostly shade and that is why they make good house plants. If you saw some of these plants I know you would love to take them with you, though you cannot, I suppose due to whatever regulations exist in the U.S. regarding bringing plants in.

We have an EKG machine now, and we are getting an X-ray machine. We have a good medical program with an excellent microscope, centrifuge for lab work and sterilizing equipment. We will be establishing a library and have about 8000 books in customs which need to be processed through so we can get them into the interior. Reading is a favorite pastime of all ages — unlike the TV addiction of most American teens, ours are finally learning to read. In fact, people are enthusiastic about reading and books fly around faster than you can keep up with them.

It is interesting that with a simpler lifestyle people have more time for deep thinking and analysis than they do in a fast-paced urban setting and one can really feel like one is building something for a change. I will try to send you an outline of our school and some people’s impressions of Jonestown.

Much love for now,


* * * * *

October 26, 1977

Dear Mom and Dad,

Charles Garry just spent 4 days here with us and went away saying he was in Paradise. The farm is coming along well and he certainly enjoyed his stay.

School is suspended a few days for planting — eddoes and sweet potatoes. The garden is now producing much greens, okra, cucumber, etc. But we have a lot of planting to do to produce all of our starches. (Mostly what is called ‘ground provisions’ which is sweet and bitter cassava, eddoes, sweet potato.) Also, of course we grow a lot of cutlass beans and eggplant — both grow well in this area.

We also grow a lot of bananas, plantains and pineapple, and we are starting cashew fruit from which the cashew nut comes. The fruit is very good to eat, and papaya. For protein we use chickens and eggs which we raise, pork from our piggery and fish which are in abundant supply. Although not totally self-sufficient yet, we are working toward that goal. Our cutlass beans also supply protein. Rice is an item we purchase which of course is indigenous to Guyana, though not to our area though we are growing some varieties. We also are experimenting growing rabbits for protein since they are prolific and good protein, but just started on this. We are going to get a few cows for milk too. Livestock must be treated carefully in the tropics, though one can succeed with the right varieties, but be cautious to prevent certain diseases and funguses. We are also experimenting growing coffee (Hurray!) and spices. We will probably grow citrus for a cash crop but as you may know it takes five years to produce. Citrus grows well in the tropics, though the outside skin is not orange in color since there are no frosts. However, the inside is orange and sweet. I expect we will have good results in the long run with citrus. Well, enough of the agricultural report. You must get the picture of a very busy community.

We also just cleared 300 more acres of jungle for agriculture. You ought to see our crew and the Amer-Indians felling trees. It’s quite unusual. From the land clearing we have 2 darling pet sloths. In case you aren’t familiar with sloths, they are funny furry tree creatures who move v-e-r-y–s-l-o-w-1-y. They have cute smiles and this variety is very peaceful though the 2-toed sloths are quite cantankerous I am told. They just hang most of the time.

The children have made up several cute calypso songs about Guyana including a girl dancing with a banana branch. Our many, many visitors have enjoyed the performance. They also do some clever plays and Patty [Cartmell] does a hilarious imitation of the ‘radio’.

The boat is in town now picking up supplies and some people. The boat (our fishing trawler) goes to town once or 2 times a month and ends up used for transport rather than fishing. So we are considering purchase of a ballyhoo for short river runs to exchange produce and for fishing. Our boat also picks up lumber for construction from mills along the river. We are becoming quite a community and we are the most successful agricultural project in all of the interior bar none — so say all government officials who come here. Our agricultural methods are improving all the time. There is definitely a lot to know in scientific tropical agriculture.

Annie and Kimo are both very fine. Kimo is in the pre-school program. Annie is as usual busy with her nursing. Our doctor gave Charles Garry the most thorough physical he has ever had in his life, he said. He felt we should document everything Larry does.

P.S. If you are having a lot of stones, medical people here suggest you should have your endocrine system checked. This can also be related to thyroid, they say. So be sure to have it checked thoroughly.

Much love, Carolyn
Annie and Kimo

* * * * *

November 1, 1977

Dear Mom, Dad, etc.–

This is just a very short note as we have someone taking the mail to town today by plane so I thought I would just add a few lines.

All is going very well. I am busy with school — studying everything from Third World politics, Caribbean politics and socialist economic concepts which of course are very applicable to the farm. We do a lot of planning — production goals, etc. Obviously the more planning we do, the better productivity we get on the farm. As you know, I have always wanted to teach these subjects and this is the first time I have ever been able to teach what I really wanted to teach. So I am really enjoying this.

I think I forgot to mention in my last letter that we are experimenting growing coffee and peanuts — both of these items grow well in tropical areas normally. I can hardly wait for the coffee to bear. It takes three years for coffee to bear.

Patty [Cartmell] and another lady went down river to buy some citrus for the farm and came back by canoe. (You can imagine what an adventure!) Patty came back with a parrot — given her by someone in her travels. She named it Homer. There is a long story behind that which I will tell you sometime. Anyway they had an interesting time and did barter a number of useful food items for the farm.

Kimo is impossible to keep up with on the farm. He is everywhere most of the time — though is in the pre-school program during the day. He plays with friends all over the place and is hard to keep up with but it is a wonderful opportunity for him to adventure independently and not get into trouble.

We are having another delegation of visitors today which is commonplace here. We are the local attraction as far as the model farm we have. So we will take them on the tour and show them the various ‘attractions’.

I almost forgot, we had our first baby born in Jonestown last Saturday. An 8-pound baby girl. Both mother and child doing very well. The delivery was carried out with the help of Dr. Larry and the nursing staff. No complications, but we had extra blood on hand just in case and all the necessities. We all got to see the newborn through the window. A very beautiful child I must say, for a newborn. All done through natural childbirth – LaMaze. We have about 15 or so pregnant mothers all taking their LaMaze lessons and getting prepared. We have a lot of young married couples in the group although we are not encouraging a lot of pregnancies at this time, until the farm is more developed, but many came already pregnant. We also have our own family planning clinic.

Well, I definitely better get back to work now and have much to do so I will have to sign off. By the way, we brought our own video tapes so we can see the very best movies, plus even ‘Sanford and Son’ occasionally. So we do get the cultural benefits without all the crap — advertisements and lousy programs.

Much love, Carolyn

* * * * *

December 6, 1977

Dear Mom and Dad,

I received all your letters recently as our mail arrives when the boat comes in which is much faster than the regular mail service. March would be a good time to come as our guest housing will be complete by then and that is supposed to be an ideal time of year climatically.

Of course you know, Mom and Dad, that we are Marxists and you have to take that into consideration when associating with us.

The media has advertised us in the most grotesque and unreal manner — due to this conspiracy which is indeed real, though I know you are not conspiracy minded and tend to pooh-pooh the idea. I saw myself the Interpol report which a high officer in government allowed a number of us to read firsthand. They are accusing us of the most absurd things — trafficking in weapons and currencies. This I saw with my own eyes and as you know Interpol is closely related to high-ranking and wealthy Nazis in the U.S. and originated in the Nazi movement in the first place. We have suffered an unimaginable sort of harassment in the United States. It is all a political game and since they can’t get us on small things I guess now they want to start on the big ones. You need to read Comrade George and other such texts to get a perspective on what U.S. tax dollars abroad are used for. Because we have close government ties here, we have been able to learn of a number of things which otherwise we would not know. (Of course, all originates from the U.S.) And you well remember Dan Mitrione, who was certainly no myth. As Charles Garry stated, this is a ‘Paradise’. We reach out to over 200 people a day with medical care, pap smears, breast exams, prostate exams. It is a Herculean schedule and costs exorbitantly, but that is where our commitment lies. You apparently have a different perspective on adoption than Annie and I do from what I gather. $400 would go a long way to reach out to children who badly need help, but that is your decision.

I also have noticed in recent letters that there is no reference to Jim. I am not sure if this is out of fear of association or whatever, or perhaps you just don’t like him. You know that he is an avowed Marxist/Leninist — that has never been a secret. He has made this community possible and has given meaning to far too many lives to even be able to mention. So I would think you would have some concern about his well-being. You know where I have stood for years now and my politics have never been a secret. I have been a Communist since I was 15 if you can recall my many, many discussions with Dad on the subject of socialized medicine, the dialectic and other related topics. So at this point I certainly don’t want any questions on decisions I have made. In fact in the 20th century it seems obvious that one either chooses a ‘refined’ technological fascism or a democratic communism in this world. You cannot learn democracy until you learn sharing and sharing is communism. Sixty percent of the world is hungry and it will take some sort of communism to solve the problem.

We wear our philosophy with much tolerance. A few weeks ago Texaco oil representatives visited the project and raved about the beauty and creativity and individuality here. There is tremendous room for individualism here, in fact, far more than in the hustle and bustle of economic insecurity existing in the U.S. That is the irony about the critics of communism — they think there is less room for personal expression when in reality there is far more.

You can see the viciousness of the press — with not two words of truth to their accounts. We are in the midst of another McCarthy era. Obviously when Newsweek has as its feature story ‘Is America Going Right?’ it is pretty evident to even the most naive.

Both Annie and I do not wish to live in the U.S. any more. The time of our effectiveness there is over. The Jews, many of them, waited too long thinking things weren’t that bad in Germany but when Senate Bill 1437 passes, the sign that the worm has turned should be apparent. You would even be surprised at the number of ‘average Americans’ who want to come to live here.

You surely know that I have to be firmly committed because the media have been grossly irresponsible and even [San Francisco Chronicle columnist] Herb Caen says the charges are outlandish and he told the real reason that the church released to him as to why we have stayed this long. He told it sympathetically. I have read all the trash so there is not a thing I have not heard, probably before you all have and I know all the background and have for years. But it is far too lengthy to explain some things in a letter and you should have enough faith in Annie and I to know we have excellent rational minds and have chosen what we firmly believe in because for years we have seen first-hand its rightness. I guess I will have to be cliche-ish and say that probably only history will vindicate us, because we cannot get released all the documents we have seen to be published for all to see. But take my word for it, a bigger conspiracy than you would have imagined does really exist. You could give me sodium pentathol and I could list for you the absurd allegations in a document I read for several hours — which is most real and most unbelievable in its ludicrousness.

Anyway, you are welcome to see for yourself and hopefully some day you will be able to understand why people make the kind of commitments that we make. Today two babies who would have died lived because our medical team got them IV’s and gave them the kind of medication they desperately needed. One weighs 6 pounds and is three months old and the other, its twin, weighs 8 pounds. I could cite dozens of such examples, but then if you trust my judgment that is certainly not necessary.

Much love to you both. We can make arrangements in March for flights to the interior. It is a 45-minute flight and is easily arranged, so all you have to arrange is getting to Georgetown. We have a lovely church center there which is comfortable to stay in.

Love, Carolyn

Originally posted on February 17th, 2013.

Last modified on December 26th, 2020.
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