Kimball left school at age 14, trained as a blacksmith and potter, and moved with his brother in about 1820 to Mendon, Monroe County, New York, where he married his first wife in 1822 and purchased his brother's pottery business. For the next ten years, he carried out his trades, accumulated five and a half acres (22,000 m²) of land, built a house and a barn, and planted an orchard.
Many years later, Kimball reminisced of his New York masonic experiences and stated: "I wish that all men were masons and would live up to their profession, then the world would be in a much better state than it is now."
When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had established itself in Nauvoo, Illinois, Kimball was one of the original petitioners to establish a lodge there, and served as Nauvoo Lodge U.D.'s first Junior Deacon. He remained active in Freemasonry throughout his stay in Nauvoo, but was not active once he moved Utah Territory; there being no lodge in Utah in his lifetime that would allow Mormons admittance.
Early family life
Several of his close family died of tuberculosis within a few years of each other, his mother in February 1824 and his father in the spring of 1826, followed by his brother Charles C. and his brother's wife shortly thereafter.
His first child that survived infancy, William Henry, was born in Mendon, April 10, 1826.
Signs in the heavens
Kimball claims to have witnessed a miraculous event on September 22, 1827, which, according to his autobiography, he subsequently learned "took place the same evening that Joseph Smith received the records of the Book of Mormon from the Angel Moroni". This involved "a white smoke" arising on the horizon, growing "clear and transparent of a bluish cast" to reveal an army on the move "in platoons":
"We could see distinctly the muskets, bayonets, and knapsacks of the men, who wore caps and feathers like those used by the American soldiers in the last war with Britain; also their officers with their swords and equipage, and heard the clashing and jingling of their instruments of war and could discover the form and features of the men. The most profound order existed throughout the entire army, when the foremost man stepped, every man stepped at the same time: I could hear the step. When the front rank reached the Western horizon a battle ensued, as we could distinctly hear the report of the arms and the rush. No man could judge of my feelings when I beheld that army of men, as plainly as I ever saw armies of men in the flesh it seemed as though every hair of my head was alive. This scenery was gazed upon for hours, until it began to disappear."
While in New York, Kimball joined the local Baptist Church and was eventually baptized. Only three weeks later, three elders from the church Joseph Smith founded visited the house of his friend, Phinehas Young. Kimball visited the house at this time and was impressed with their teachings. He also witnessed the speaking of tongues and the interpretation of tongues during this visit. He claims to have been visited by the power of God.
During this time, he reported that he and several of the Young family saw a vision opened of the "gathering of the Saints to Zion" . This led him to travel to Pennsylvania to visit with the elders some more, accompanied by some of the Youngs. They stayed six days with the elders and the church there and witnessed more miracles such as speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
On April 16, 1832 Kimball was baptized by Alpheus Gifford. After the confirmation, the elder offered to give the priesthood, but Kimball refused it as he felt he was unready. 30 more people were baptized in Mendon, and they formed a branch of the church.
About this time, people began calling Kimball "crazy", although he claims he was "clothed in the right mind". He claims the scriptures unfolded for him. Local clergy and members of other faiths soon became antagonistic towards the small Latter Day Saint branch and its members. Kimball had several people make executions on his property to recall considerable debts, which he was nevertheless able to pay off in full.
Shortly after his baptism, Kimball was ordained an elder by Joseph Young, and began proselyting in the neighboring areas with Joseph and Brigham Young. They were met with great success, baptizing many and building up churches. He reports one instance where Ezra Landon baptized some twenty people but wanted Kimball to confirm them. He did so, and immediately they began speaking in tongues and interpreting them.
In 1833, Kimball relocated his family to church headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio. He marched with Zion's Camp in 1834. From 1832 until 1840 Kimball served eight missions for the Church.
Quorum of the Twelve
Kimball was ordained a member of The Quorum of Twelve Apostles on February 14, 1835. He was one of the original twelve members of the Quorum, being 4th in seniority.
Joseph Smith, Jr. called Kimball to lead a group of missionaries to England in 1837. The mission began work in Preston, Lancashire, England. After the initial baptisms in Preston the missionaries expanded their efforts to the Ribble Valley. By the time Kimball left to return to the United States in 1838 about 1500 people had been baptized.
Kimball returned with a small party to make travel arrangements for the groups and discovered the Latter Day Saints were undergoing considerable strife and pressure in the state of Missouri.
While Smith was imprisoned in the Liberty Jail, Brigham Young (now ranking leader of the Quorum) and Kimball organized the removal of approximately 12,000 Latter Day Saint refugees across the border into Illinois. There the church founded the city of Nauvoo and built a temple.
In September 1839 Kimball left Nauvoo for another mission to England. He did not reach Indiana until October. He made stops at Kirtland to encourage the remaining Saints there to move to Nauvoo and other places and a long stop in New York City. He sailed from New York on December 19 but did not reach Liverpool until April 6. Kimball spent 1840 and some of 1841 in England. Initially in the area in and around Preston and later working as a missionary in London. The missionaries began organizing groups of British converts to travel to America, beginning in 1840, and join the main body of the church.
After Smith's assassination in 1844, succession to the leadership of the church was a divisive issue for some. Brigham Young, standing as the head of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, led the majority of church members across the state line into Iowa and eventually to the Salt Lake Valley. Kimball stood next in leadership in the Quorum to Brigham Young.
Kimball became a member of the new First Presidency in 1847. Kimball led one of three large companies to the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1848.
While in the First Presidency, Kimball received special assignments to supervise the ongoing British Mission and to conduct temple ordinances. He also worked to encourage economic independence for Utah.
When the provisional government of the State of Deseret was organized in spring 1849, Kimball was appointed the chief justice and lieutenant governor of the proposed state.
Kimball served in the Utah Territorial Legislature in the upper house (the Territorial Council) from 1851 until 1858. He was president of the Council during the session beginning in March 1851, but later served as a regular member of the Council.
Kimball died on June 22, 1868, at age 67, in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, from the effects of a carriage accident. He was buried in the Kimball-Whitney Cemetery (40.772949, -111.889755), located on the south slope of what's now known as Capitol Hill, an area then called "Heber's Bench" after him.
Kimball received private instruction from Joseph Smith on plural marriage (polygamy). Initially reluctant, Kimball accepted the responsibility and married a second wife, Sarah Noon. His first wife, Vilate Murray Kimball, accepted plural marriage and welcomed the additional wives as sisters. Heber and Vilate agreed and gave their 14-year-old daughter Helen Marr as a plural wife of Joseph Smith. Kimball considered the marrying of multiple wives an expression of his faith in and obedience to God: "I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors His work and word."
Wives and children
Kimball eventually married a total of forty-three women, although it is stated that many of these marriages were merely caretaking arrangements lacking a physical intimacy component. Kimball had sixty-five children by seventeen of his wives.
^After Kimball's death, George A. Smith was added to the First Presidency and Brigham Young, Jr. was added to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but both Smith and Young had already been ordained apostles prior to Kimball's death.
^David J. Whitaker and James R. Moss, "Missions of the Twelve to the British Isles", in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed. Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1995) p. 331
^Edward L. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball" in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Church History, p. 268