The name Jocassee comes from the legend of a Cherokee maiden. An Oconee tribe, the “Brown Vipers” led by Chief Attakulla, inhabited the west side of the Whitewater river, while a rival tribe, “The Green Birds”, lived on the east. Legend says that a young Green Bird warrior,
Nagoochee was not afraid to enter Brown Viper hunting grounds. On one occasion, he fell and broke his leg and was convinced he was going to die. Then he heard Jocassee, Attakulla’s daughter, who brought him back to her father’s lodge and nursed him back to health. Jocassee eventually fell in love with him, but in a later battle, Cheochee, Jocassee’s brother, killed and brought Nagoochee’s head back on his belt. Legend has it that Jocassee went into the water and did not sink but walked across the water to meet the ghost of Nagoochee. The name Jocassee means “Place of the Lost One.”
The Jocassee Gorges area was once home to the part of the Cherokee Nation; it now lies 300 feet (91 m) beneath the surface of the lake, near the Toxaway River. Nearby Keowee Town was a major hub in the Cherokee Path that connected Cherokee towns and villages throughout the area. Early 18th Century traders delivered as many as 200,000 deerskins annually to Charleston, South Carolina and local Indians became well supplied with European firearms, ammunition, tools and clothing as a result. However, mounting discord between Europeans and Cherokees led to war in 1759. In 1785, General Andrew Pickens hosted a large gathering of Indian chiefs leading to a treaty that gave all of the Jocassee gorges area, with the exception of northern Oconee County, to the United States; the Oconee mountains were not ceded until 1815. European settlers, mostly of Scottish and Irish descent, came from Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as from Charleston. Land grants in the Jocassee area go back to 1791.
Lake Jocassee was one of the filming locations for the 2012 movie, The Hunger Games.