by lisa perkins
OLD MISSION — Separating the truth from fictionalized versions of the Salem witch trials is a daunting task.
Stephen Lewis, professor of English emeritus at Suffolk Community College in New York and resident of Old Mission Peninsula since 2002, will set out to do just that when he speaks to the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society at 7 p.m., Thursday, at the Peninsula Township Hall, 13235 Center Road.
"From a modern perspective, it seems nearly ridiculous, the things that people were charged with," said Lewis, who holds a doctorate in American literature from New York University with his thesis in New England Puritanism.
Lewis plans to put the Salem witch trails into historical context and explain the varied theories behind the paranoia that led to more than 200 people being accused of witchcraft in the early 1690s.
"The medieval mind-set of science and religion are vital to understanding the period," said Lewis, noting that Puritanical values were a strong contributor to the events that unfolded.
"Puritanism seems like such an unattractive religion, very tough. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to practice it," he said.
"Those who practiced Puritanism thought those who were going to heaven were predestined, that there was nothing you could do to save yourself if you were not predestined," said Lewis, who is also a novelist.
Lewis, who wrote locally set "Murder On Old Mission" in 2005, also is the author of "The Monkey Rope," "And Baby Makes None" and historical novels "Mysteries of Colonial Times," "The Dumb Shall Sing and The Seal Hath Spoken." His most recent novel is "Stone Cold Dead."