Heck, Barbara Ruckle (1734–1804)

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Heck, Barbara Ruckle (1734–1804)

German religious pioneer who, with Philip Embury, organized the first Methodist society in New York City, now regarded as the beginning of the Wesleyan movement in the U.S. Born Barbara Ruckle in 1734 at Ruckle Hill in Balligarane, Ireland; died on August 17, 1804, near Augusta, Canada; daughter of Sebastian Ruckle; married Paul Heck, in 1760 (died 1792 or 1795); children: two daughters and three sons.

Emigrated to America with husband and others from a German Methodist colony in County Limerick, Ireland, settling in New York City (1760); with husband and other members of the community, moved upriver to farmland near Salem in Washington County, New York (1770); for political reasons, moved with family to Montreal (1774); when husband received a grant of land for his military service in Maitland, near August in Upper Canada, she and family moved and remained there for the rest of their lives (1785).

The members of Barbara Heck's small German-speaking community in Ireland were the descendants of late 17th-century immigrants to Ireland from the Palatinate on the Rhine. These Palatinate Germans were missionized by John Wesley on his visit to Ireland in 1747. Members of this community, including Heck, emigrated to the American colonies together in 1760, although it was not until six years after their arrival that the group began to establish Methodism in America. Also in 1760, Barbara married Paul Heck with whom she would have five children.

Discouraged by the community's lack of belief, in 1766 Barbara Heck encouraged Philip Embury, who had been an itinerant Methodist preacher in Ireland, to begin preaching once again to their community. The congregation grew from a small one in Embury's house, to one large enough to fill space in the Rigging Loft in William Street in New York, and eventually into a strong community with the resources to build their own Wesley Chapel. Members of the British Army stationed in New York were active in this community, contributing heavily, and on October 30, 1768, the first official Methodist Chapel in America was opened on John Street in the heart of New York's financial district and was named the Wesley Chapel. The John Street Methodist Chapel still stands on the site on which the Wesley Chapel was built, and a plaque dedicated to Barbara Heck and Philip Embury in the church reads: "Their works do follow them."

Due to political beliefs, in 1774 Heck moved with her family to Montreal, where her husband enlisted as a volunteer in the British Army. Heck spent the majority of the war years in Montreal and Quebec and repeated her activities on behalf of Methodism. In 1786, following the family's move to land provided by the British government for war services near Augusta, Heck encouraged the construction of a Wesleyan chapel, and brought the style of Methodist prayer to this area. This is believed to be the first Methodist chapel in Canada and was led by Samuel Embury, Philip Embury's son. Heck's husband Paul died in 1792, or 1795, and Barbara continued her devotion and leadership in this Methodist community as a lay leader until her death in 1804. She is buried beside her husband in the Old Blue Churchyard of the Wesley Chapel in Maitland, Canada.


Caddell, G. Lincoln. Barbara Heck: Pioneer Methodist. Cleveland, OH: Pathway Press, 1961.

Withrow, William Henry. Barbara Heck: A Tale of Early Methodism. Toronto: William Briggs, 1895.

suggested reading:

Stevens, Abel. The Women of Methodism; Its Three Foundresses, Susanna Wesley, the Countess of Huntingdon, and Barbara Heck; With Sketches of Their Female Associates and Successors in the Early History of the Denomination. NY: Carlton & Porter, 1866.


Some artifacts and papers relating to Barbara Heck, including her Bible, are housed at Victorian University, Toronto.

Amanda Carson Banks , Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, Tennessee