Heck was a member of a colony of Germans who came from the Rhine Palatinate and settled in Ballingrane, County Limerick and other parts of the west County Limerick about 1708. She married Paul Heck, a member of the same community. By the preaching of John Wesley many of these Germans, whose descendants were long afterward known as Palatines in Ireland, became converts to Methodism.
The Hecks emigrated from Ireland about 1760, and settled in New York, where other Methodists from Ireland became domiciled about the same time. They had no pastor and grew careless of religious observances. In 1765 they were joined by Philip Embury, who had been a local preacher in Ireland, and another group of immigrants from Ireland which included her brother Paul Ruckle. Soon after their arrival, Mrs. Heck entered a room in which, according to some accounts, Embury was present, and found the emigrants gambling at cards. She seized the cards and threw them into the fire, expostulated with the players in pathetic language, and then went to Embury and charged him that he should preach to them, or God would require their blood at his hands.
In consequence meetings were shortly afterward begun. The first group included the Hecks and their slave, Betty. Eventually the revival included a large number, mostly Irish immigrants and a number of African Americans. Barbara Heck designed the simple chapel at John Street which represented the group's first permanent location. As a structure, it post-dated another built elsewhere by Robert Strawbridge, also an early Methodist.
In 1770, the Hecks went to Camden Valley. When the Revolutionary war began, the Hecks moved to Salem, in northern New York, in order to be among loyalists, and founded the first Methodist society in that district. Paul joined the army of Burgoyne, and, while at home on a furlough at the time of the surrender at Saratoga, was arrested by patriot soldiers, but escaped at night while they slept, and made his way through the woods into Canada, where he was joined by his wife. They settled in Augusta, and with others from New York formed the earliest Methodist society in Canada. Paul died several years before his wife, in the late 18th century.
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "Heck, Barbara". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
- History of the Embury Heck Memorial Church, Ballingrane.
- "Heck, Barbara". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
- "Heck, Barbara". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.