Restoration attempts to reintroduce American chestnut trees to the eastern deciduous forest by means of a disease-resistant Chinese-American hybrid seed are in progress. Knowing the light conditions required for optimum seedling performance is necessary to maximize the success of reintroduction. American chestnut (Castanea dentata (Marsh.) Borkh.) seedlings were planted in two replicate forests in Vinton County, Ohio, in areas that had been thinned (more available light) and in control areas (intact canopy, less available light). The photosynthetic capacity of 12 seedlings per treatment was assessed using an infrared gas-exchange analyzer. Seedlings in the thinned treatment reached light-saturating rates of photosynthesis at an irradiance level approximately 33% higher than did the seedlings in the control treatment. Seedlings grown in the thinned treatment had a significantly greater maximum rate of photosynthesis (Amax), dark respiration rate (Rd), and daily carbon gain per seedling than seedlings grown in the control treatment. The light compensation point (LCP), quantum efficiency (φ), leaf mass per area (LMA), and leaf nitrogen concentration per unit leaf area (Narea) were not significantly different between treatments. American chestnut seedlings in the thinned treatment clearly maximize leaf-level photosynthetic capacity. These results will aid land managers in planning reintroduction trials by providing information on the light conditions required for maximum seedling success.