You say you've had no luck with ships lists, but have you checked the filmed indexes to passenger surnames? For 1850 most ports of arrival in USA are indexed.
NY is one that is not, although an index on CD ROM exists.
New Orleans also is not indexed pre 1853 but the ports you list have been done.
Since you say "maybe PA or VA" here's the info you need for those two states:
For a complete list of film numbers for ships going to PA
after 1820, seehttp://olivetreegenealogy.com/ships/filmnos_pa.shtml
Find the film you need and write down the
NARA or Family History Centre film number you need.
Then you can order the film in to your nearest FHC or have
NARA do the lookup for you.
The staff of the National Archives will undertake a search
of the original records for a fee
To find your nearest FHC you can go to http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp
If you want to try your luck ONline, there is a custom
search engine that will search most Internet sites
with ships going to PA.
and choose PENNSYLVANIA from the state choices.
Scroll down to the yellow search engine.
Since he was Irish, you could also check Irish to USA at http://olivetreegenealogy.com/ships/irishtousa.shtml
For VA, go to http://olivetreegenealogy.com/ships/nara_indexbyport.shtml
Scroll down til you find films for VIRGINIA and click on the link
Also, here's one more idea for you. While there are no published indexes strictly for English immigrants, I realized I could help a bit by creating a search engine that would search the Internet (and OTG) for ships FROM
England to USA or Canada
The search engine is complete and it will search multiple
websites for passengers sailing from England to USA only. I
will be creating one for Canada as soon as I have time.
This page also includes alternate resource ideas for
searching your English ancestry, and links to offsite databases as well as Olive Tree Genealogy pages.
I hope this is helpful. I will be adding to the search
engine as I find more ships. To use the custom search engine,
scroll to the bottom and look for the large yellow box.